I was fortunate to have been invited to attend the first ever Female Founder's Conference hosted by Y-Combinator on March 1, 2014 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. Per Jessica Livingston, one of the founders of Y-combinator, this was the most oversubscribed event in the history of Y-combinator and they had to turn away several well qualified people who applied to attend. This, after the initial 150 people event at the YC office morphed to a 500 people event at the Computer History Museum!
Some aspects really stood out for me -
1. The commonality in our concerns and experience was striking, across different start-ups, stages and verticals, with gender being the only common factor.
Take for instance Jessica's experience putting together this conference. This was her brainchild, and she invested the time, effort, and energy into realizing her vision. Guess what Inc. magazine reported? This:
There was a collective groan from the audience when she shared this, and many heads were nodding in understanding. It left me wondering if there was any woman in the room who hadn't experienced this - work hard and accomplish something, but have the credit handed to a man, no matter how tangential or coincidental his involvement with the task.
2. One of the speakers asked for a show of hands from the audience to learn about audience backgrounds. A good 50+% of the all-women audience raised their hands when asked how many were engineers and programmers. That was plain awesome! Never in my life have I been surrounded by so many fellow women engineers.
I was hearing snatches of conversations about OS's, actuators, drivers, robots, APIs, REST interfaces and micro-controllers. It gave me such a kick, especially considering the stereotypes about how women only talk about clothes/fashion/babies/cute kittens and the like. There were fashionable women alright, but ambitious and brilliant geeks too and the conference was a testament to the fact that brains and beauty happily coexist with lovely, non-soap opera personalities.
3. The one thing that was a turn-off was the handful of founders who were trying to recruit the techies to work for their start-ups. This was a female founders conference. It was plain disrespectful to try and recruit someone at the conference. The attendees were there because they aspire to be founders. If you want to recruit engineers of any gender, go to Pycon or Ladies who code or one of the numerous other tech. events and meetups to find them. It's so not cool to ask people to give up on their aspirations and work for you, so you can further yours.
4. There were moms with babies in the audience, and there were moms who were successful founders on the stage! Jessica shared a photo of her working with her son in a bouncer on the table, next to the computer monitor. That brought a smile to my face. Reminded me of the hours I have logged thumb typing on the phone writing up a product spec while putting my little one to sleep, wearing the baby in an Ergo and taking conference calls walking around to keep her calm, and trying to work on the laptop with one hand while the other hand was occupied.
I tweeted the event live. Here are the relevant tweets from the event, with the oldest tweet starting at the bottom: